MOGI DAS CRUZES, Brazil — Belgium coach Marc Wilmots was sure about two things coming into the World Cup: A single action can turn a match, and Eden Hazard can produce that single decisive action.
The Belgian playmaker goes into the second-round game against the United States on Tuesday ready to spring that unstoppable move after more than a week of rest and almost a lifetime of watching Brazilian football videos.
“All the Brazilians inspired me,” Hazard said, rattling off the names of Ronaldo, Ronaldinho and Robinho. “When I was little and growing up, I watched a lot of videos.”
Little surprise he was all eyes Saturday watching Neymar and Brazil escape into the quarterfinals, beating Chile in a penalty shootout.
Already among the most talented players on the ball in Europe, more was expected of the 23-year-old Hazard at the World Cup.
Yes, he has been decisive in the two matches he started, twice providing the assist that qualified Belgium with a game to spare. And when he came on with a few minutes to play in the 1-0 win over South Korea, he also proved how effective he can be with his feints and fakes, fabulous dribbles and fearsome shots.
But he has also failed to the lift pressure on a harried defense for much of his games.
Much like Aime Jacquet realized France could not win the 1998 World Cup without Zinedine Zidane, Wilmots realizes Belgium needs Hazard.
“A whole campaign can turn on one action, one incident,” Wilmots said.
And he wants Hazard to provide it, even if he appears to be struggling in the match.
Twice, it seemed that Hazard was having lackluster games when the opposition still had wind. But during the 2-1 victory over Algeria, it was a pinpoint pass to Dries Mertens that set the winger up for a shot that won the game. Against Russia, it was a move on the left into the penalty area and a perfect pass to Divock Origi which made the difference in a 1-0 game.
Against the Americans in Salvador, he is again expected to be teamed up with Kevin De Bruyne as the creative genius in a disciplined squad.
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